Fearing for Our Lives / Reaped by Robot Scythes, Research Time, 27/06/2018

I told you I was switching gears. Quite literally to metal gears. Some of the analyses in Utopias will include some concepts from media theory, but the research discipline of media theory comes with some limitations.

In short form, it gets a bit idealist, ontologically speaking. Here’s what I mean. Mainstream media theory concentrates on the structure of media communications. You study the structures, conventions, and techniques of how media products are assembled.

Above: a metaphor.
So you come to think in terms of a multi-form semiotics – language, meaning, and how the structure of communication shapes language and meaning.

Quick illustration. You watch a video on someone’s phone. It’s shaky, clearly a phone held in the hand. Clear yet distant. The form of the video itself tells you what it is, displays its genuineness. Understanding the form helps you understand the message. Sounds familiar for some reason.

This is a pivotal aspect of media studies, theory, and the general means we use to understand our enormous ecology of communication. But we need to understand the literally ecological aspects of communication, and the geological too.

Information is conditioned by the physical media that carries it, but the process of manufacturing that media conditions the structure of our world. Some of the most destructive pollution generated in the mining sector is in the rare earth mines.

We dig complex minerals and intensively filter and treat them to separate all the different metals like yttrium, dysprosium, thulium, neodymium, and all the rest of the lanthanides. The result of those industrial mining procedures is rampant and horrifying pollution.

Above: a referent.
I picked up Jussi Parikka’s book The Geology of Media because I’d heard it was a solid continuation of many of the geological and ecological concepts that Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari developed. Damn right it was.

Semiotics – the study of meaning and how communication infrastructure conditions the information it carries – is vital to understanding contemporary media and globalized communication. But Parikka’s work is essential in understanding the brute physicality of our media – a hurricane of metals swirling into an assemblage of mines, factories electricity, and language that is simultaneously liberating and disastrous.

You can’t have contemporary media – computer and smartphone technology, including all the accessories as small and seemingly inconsequential as headphones – without these massive machines of metal extraction and manufacture.

The environmentalist movement makes a big deal about fossil fuel extraction, industry, burning, pollution, and impact on climate change. But quite often, activists will post their critical messages using smartphones and computers built with another horrifically destructive industrial process – lanthanide mining.

Is there any way out for us? I honestly don’t know.

If I want to start a blog post with Judas Priest lyrics, then I will. It’s the closest I have to an answer.

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